Friday, July 18, 2014

An Overview of the Demise of Rhode Island's Oyster Industry and its Cause... The Toilet???

We recently came across this terrific and insightful presentation by Michael Rice of the Rhode Island SeaGrant. The economic overview is very thought provoking. 

In 1910 oyster protein cost 1/3 of that of eggs. while today it is roughly 6 times as costly. What drove this change? Well one interesting factor appears to be the dramatic decrease in supply.

In 1910 Rhode Island had 21,000 acres of oyster farms. (No  we are not off by a zero.) The hardy creatures could be shipped without refrigeration and the industry threw off the modern day equivalent of half a billion dollars into the State's economy.  

Today RI's oyster aquaculture is down to 172 acres. In 2012 direct oyster sales were under $3 million and the economic impact was less than $15 million. This means there is a huge economic opportunity here. 

But what drove the fall off in oyster production? This is where it gets really interesting. In 1901 John Crapper began promoting the siphon toilet that was actually invented by John Harrington.   

John Crapper's toilet
Ad Publicizing John Crapper's Plumbing Products Includes the Toilet

With the influx of indoor plumbing driven and the growing use of toilets, the amount of liquid waste grew dramatically. This in turn led to the expansion of the sewer systems in the 1910-20 period, which led to increased waste disposal in the Narragansett Bay. While this solved the sanitation problem in the cities, it led to problems with oyster safety. The deaths of several prominent people drove the development of the National Shellfish Sanitation program in 1925. 

With pollution already taking its toll on the available area, the Hurricane of 1938 hit many hard and then came the labor shortages of World War 2.  These labor shortages were significant. The trees we see along many golf courses today began growing in as there was less manpower to tend the courses and they focused on the actual holes. The last oyster farm closed in 1952 and the field did not restart until 1995. 

Map of Narragansett Bay  Oyster Industry
Map of Narragansett Bay and its Catchment Area.

Here is Dr. Rice's  terrific presentation. 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wine Designed for Pairing with Oysters Supports Oyster Restoration

The team at Proud Pour has developed a Sauvignon Blanc wine specifically to be paired with oysters. Founder Kim Kelly was frequently torn between allocating time to happy hour and working on environmental causes.

Kim Kelly Oyster Wine  Creator
Wine developer and oyster restoration supporter Kim Kelly
She ultimately created a way to do both by developing a wine that supports oyster restoration. Aptly named "The Oyster" the wine has a crisp taste and is made from mid-coast California grapes.
Oyster Wine label
Wine designed for pairing with oysters.

For each bottle sold, funds will be donated to restore 100 oysters that can filter 5000 gallons of water per day. 

Oyster Sauvignon Blanc
Oyster wine supports oyster restoration

The wine should be available in New York State on August 1, and in Massachusetts by October. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Oysters Could Help Protect New York from Sea Level Rise

This article is reprinted and excerpted from a Michael Kane article in the New York Post. You can find the original article here. 

Why New York should become the city of oysters again

“Our raw-bar special tonight is the Gowanus oyster. Briny, good salinity with undertones of sewage and industrial detergents . . .”
Hard to imagine now, but New York Harbor and its surrounding tributaries, estuaries and bays once produced enough native shellfish that a typical city dweller ate about 600 local oysters a year.
Cheap, abundant oysters were the pizza slice of the early 1800s. For less than a penny apiece, this poor man’s dietary staple was sold at countless oyster saloons in lower Manhattan. The happy-hour special — called the “Canal Street Plan” — was all-you-can-eat for a sixpence.

Pearl Street — called Parelstraat by Dutch colonists — was so named because the road was paved with native oyster shells.
By 1910, 1.4 billion oysters a year were pulled out of city waters — and, around the same time, the people eating all those increasingly bacteria-tainted shellfish began to fall ill with vibrio cholera and typhoid.
As recently as 1921, lobsters and shellfish were still being plucked from Jamaica Bay in Queens — not so appetizing now that the bay is home to JFK Airport and four sewage-treatment plants.
There are still some surviving oysters in Big Apple waters, such as the practically pitiable Crassostrea virginica, but as oysters are, in essence, a creature of water filtration, they are not surprisingly polluted, diseased and mercifully few. Any oyster you see on a raw-bar menu in the city these days comes from at least 30 miles away. Anywhere from Rhode Island or Maine to the Pacific Northwest.
It’s a bit ironic amid a locavore movement among the city’s foodies that New York has such “a broken relationship with its own ocean,” says author Paul Greenberg.
Two centuries ago, reefs composed of 3 trillion oysters were a “natural seawall” that created shallower bays and served as a “first line of defense for Manhattan against storms as fierce or fiercer than 2012’s Hurricane Sandy,” Greenberg writes.In “American Catch,” eco warrior Greenberg laments the “pollution free-for-all” that killed the edible New York City oyster (“By 1910, 600 million gallons a day of raw sewage were going into New York’s waterways”), yet he remains hopeful of a rebirth for the most unlikely of reasons: flood control.
Over the next 50 years, the sea level is predicted by environmental scientists to rise approximately two feet. Since Sandy, the Army Corps of Engineers, architects and federal and city government officials have been brainstorming ideas to head off the next catastrophe. Proposals have included building a massive, 5-mile seawall hook or elevated platforms ringing the Battery.
Greenberg posits that a far more effective and certainly more cost-effective — less than $1 billion compared with estimates of around $50 billion for the more outlandish ideas — would be to repopulate oyster beds around the city. It’s an idea already studied by the organization NY/NJ Baykeeper, which is headquartered on Governors Island.
Not surprisingly, a component of the plan is recycling. Think of all those tons of oyster shells thrown into the trash by city restaurants every year. Those could be reintroduced to the water to serve as a base for a revitalized oyster bed. Additionally, concrete when coated with calcium carbonate acts as a fertile base for oyster larvae to set.Oysters are unique among shellfish in that they build their beds vertically — upon the shells of expired ancestors — almost like coral reefs. With pollution greatly reduced since the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, the author believes that with a jump-start, oyster reefs could become self-perpetuating over the next century.
Greenberg admits oysters alone “wouldn’t stop the inundation” of a massive hurricane, but it could “mitigate its extremes.”
“An oyster reef could, for example, extend the breakwater at Breezy Point at the far end of the Rockaways and shield Coney Island in its lee,” he writes. “The ocean is coming at us in a way it never has before, and very soon we will be forced to profoundly renegotiate a truce between land and sea.”
OK, so when do we get to eat a New York City oyster?
“Sometime around 2050,” Greenberg says.
“Gotham is in fact one huge estuary,” he adds. “Once upon a time, each little outflow had its own salinity and its own specific oyster taste. Today most of the creeks have been interrupted, paved over, and rerouted underground, through the sewer system or trickling out along subway lines.”

Subway oysters? Might want to have the cocktail sauce ready